Recession leaves workers in US stuck in bad jobs

Written by Reuters | New York | Updated: Aug 28 2009, 05:42am hrs
With the US economy mired in recession, workers are finding themselves stuck in bad jobs with such annoyances as managers who berate employees and bosses who hold meetings in bed. Unable to make a move when jobs are scarce and some 14.5 million workers are unemployed, many employees feel trapped and are seeking ways to cope, experts say.

They cant move, said Kathi Elster, co-author of Working for You Isnt Working for Me, due out next month. They want to leave their jobs because they cant stand somebody in the office or the politics of the company or theyre overworked or underworked or they dont like the culture of the company, she said.

Not only is the economy keeping people from changing jobs, but its likely to mean fewer employees doing more work and bosses under pressure from above, the experts say. Its a perfect storm, said Mitchell Kusy, co-author of Toxic Workplace. In his research of 400 business leaders, 64% were currently working with a toxic personality and 94% had done so at some point in their career.

Many workers would change jobs if they could, according to a survey this week that said many US workers plan a switch when the economy improves. It said 18% plan to change employers, 14% plan to change careers, 13% plan to change industries and 18% plan to work fewer hours.

The unemployed people we know who really cant find jobs are actually happier than the people that are employed because its so difficult right now, said Elster. Unhappy workers can be costly, said Kusy. They are less productive, show less commitment to the organisation and volunteer for less work, he said.

Not only is there emotional toil, theres also this financial burden that occurs in the organisation, he said. Among some vivid cases, one New York worker described a boss who, while not sick, nonetheless holds business meetings in bed, with employees gathered in his bedroom. Right now Im looking for a new job, the market be damned, the worker said, not wanting to be identified.

A senior information technology analyst, who also did not want to be named, said his boss is a workplace lawsuit waiting to happen. She flaunts employment laws and workplace rules and tries to impress superiors while berating the staff, he said.

I was looking for another position before the recession hit and working on starting my own business, but thats been put on hold until things improve, he said. When things do get better, Im leaving as soon as I can.

A tight job market makes it worse, said Katherine Crowley, co-author of Working for You Isnt Working for Me.

One of the challenges of this climate is most employees, theyre afraid to say no, theyre afraid to set any kind of limits and theyre afraid even to take vacation, she said.

Marc Hershon, co-author of I Hate People: Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job, said his advice is minimise contact.

The less time you spend in a situation thats going to create the opportunity for friction, the better you are, he said. The whole goal is to figure out how to be more productive and how to lessen the anguish. Kusy and co-author Elizabeth Holloway suggest workplaces establish standards of behavior and promote models of civility to reach what they call respectful engagement.

Even if job moves were easier, that is rarely an answer, said Elster, adding: Youre going to take it with you.

She and Crowley advocate ways to adjust expectations, find recognition from other sources and assume some control.

Find a mentor, join a support group or start to network so that you are not focused on the boss but youre focused on yourself and your career, Elster said.